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

No Thanks, I’m Trying to Cut Back

Donald Trump, who doesn’t drink alcohol, recently launched a super-premium vodka. As The New York Times asks in its coverage of the launch (registration required),

Why would a notorious teetotaler—a man who once publicly yearned for ‘the lawyers that went after the tobacco companies’ to ‘go after the alcohol companies’—affix his name to a … vodka? ‘If I don’t do it,’ Mr. Trump said, ‘someone else will.’

OK, so say someone else launches another high-end vodka brand instead of The Donald—who cares?! As David Kiley notes in his BusinessWeek blog, Trump doesn’t REEEally need the cash from vodka royalties, and “throwing around his name brand haphazardly” like this will probably do a lot more damage to his reputation in the long run. Plus, let me add that while vodka is the most popular alcohol in the U.S. (and probably the easiest to produce), it certainly doesn’t scream “luxe” to me. Why not do a Trump cognac or single-malt Trumpscotch instead?

This news also got me thinking about how food and drink producers with dietary restrictions—whether moral or health-related—balance their personal needs with their culinary duties. Granted, Trump has pretty much nothing to do with the actual crafting of “his” vodka (though he admits to having tasted it); but I remember talking with a Bay Area café owner a few years ago who was vegan but still served meat and dairy to meet customer demand. And people like Sam from Top Chef, the “hot diabetic,” often have to prepare and taste food that doesn’t fly on their diet. (The fact that Sam’s low-sugar dessert smoothie in this week’s episode was totally off-balance, while his low-calorie meatballs were, in judge Tom Colicchio’s estimation, “leaden orbs of ground meat on a stick,” shows that perhaps even he is more comfortable cooking without restrictions.)

On a personal note, I may soon get tested for celiac disease; the treatment if I have it would be giving up all products containing wheat, barley, oats, and rye, which would mean never again being able to try or write about most pizza, breads, baked goods, and pastas (better get to Babbo while I still can).

Do any readers have experiences working in the food world while on a special diet? How did you manage it?

Well, It’s Sorta Like Restaurant Food

On Monday, Slashfood ran a trend post of sorts about the recent explosion of “make-and-take” restaurant/shops, including two new stores near writer Jonathan Forester’s upstate New York home. Basically these stores—like Let’s Dish!, the franchise operation that Forester is considering buying into—provide recipes, kitchen space, equipment, and pre-prepped ingredients. The customer just shows up, throws a bunch of chopped-up food and a few spices together in a disposable aluminum pan, does some minimal precooking, then wraps her finished pile of meals and takes them home to freeze or refrigerate for later use. Oh, and it’s always “her” pile in these places, apparently—there’s nary a man in sight in any of the promo material.

There is something incredibly appealing about the idea of having your own prep cook and not having a mess to clean up after a few hours in the kitchen. But how worth it is the whole thing when the “pre-prepped” ingredients include baby carrots, sliced mushrooms, and what appears to be cold-cut meat (all of which are sold in those exact same states of “preppedness” at any supermarket)? As Slashfood commenter Kate points out, it’s likely to be a passing fad:

I would think the people who loves[sic] these clubs the most—are groups of girlfriends who are eager to try something new for awhile[sic], hoot it up on Lasagne Making Night, but seldom become long-term customers.

I’d give one of these places a try for novelty’s sake, though I have a feeling my girlfriends and I already get a much bigger hoot out of our monthly sessions cooking at one of our apartments with ingredients we’ve bought together. Also, the idea that customers are cycling through the same kitchen all day long, pulling their ingredients from the same bins, grosses me out a little bit, and I’m not even much of a germaphobe. I’m sure they have some fairly strict cleanliness rules in place at these stores, but there’s at least as much of a chance that somebody snotted in the olive bin as there is at any salad bar—and I feel like if I’m eating a “home-cooked” meal, I want to know that any hair I find in my food belongs to me or someone I love. Maybe that’s just me?

Campari’s Made from Bugs

Campari’s Made from Bugs

A lot of stuff you thought was vegan isn't. READ MORE

Bringing Fatty Back

Bringing Fatty Back

Fatty pork trumps lean. Has the other white meat chubbed up? READ MORE

Use the Force, Lucques

It certainly shaped up to be a Lucques-cullian sort of week, didn’t it? This past Wednesday, Suzanne Goin, chef and owner of the L.A. area’s Lucques, the Hungry Cat, and A.O.C., was featured as the guest judge on Bravo’s Top Chef. Goin, who was named California’s best chef in 2006 by the James Beard Foundation and also garnered a James Beard award for her cookbook, Sunday Suppers at Lucques, was a tough but fair judge during the competition. After cheftestant Frank Terzoli was named winner of this week’s Elimination Challenge, Goin gave him a copy of her cookbook and also asked him to collaborate on one of her famous Sunday Suppers menus at Lucques.

Completely unrelated to the scandals and skirmishes of the boob tube, Jen of food blog Life Begins at Thirty writes about her recent visit to Lucques, admitting that her soup was so good, it made her selfish:

It’s a lovely space with wonderful food. I had a spicy chickpea and kale soup, and told my dinnermates that I couldn’t share because I was concerned that they’d catch my cold. Mostly true, but I also wanted to savor every bit of the soup that I could.

However, as she mentions, Jen wasn’t the only blogger indulging in Lucques this week. A Finger in Every Pie’s Jen relished her meal so much, she’s going to try and recapture some of the magic in her own kitchen:

Or perhaps, although I won’t be able to match the elegance and deliciousness of what emerges from Lucques’ kitchen, I will try out my newly acquired (and signed!) copy of Sunday Suppers at Lucques. Don’t touch that dial.

By the by, Lucques gets its name from the olive variety. Found in both France and Italy (they take their name from the Italian province), Lucques olives are known as “the Queen of Olives” and taste of “fresh almonds and avocados.”

Top Secret Korean Noodles

Corner Place is well known for its cold noodles, but don’t try to get them to go–the recipe is top secret. Not even the owners know how it’s made, says greengelato–it’s concocted by an elderly lady who makes it herself and has the soup shipped in top-secret white vans to the restaurant’s two locations. Afraid of someone figuring out the recipe, management doesn’t allow takeout even of the leftovers.

So what is this stuff? It’s not the better known mul naeng myun but dongchimi gooksu–white wheat noodles in a broth based on the pickling juice of dongchimi, lightly pickled daikon.

The texture of the noodles is just perfect, says Pei, better than the insipidly soft versions of Taiwanese mien xien (pulled noodles) here. The dongchimi broth is kind of sweet and fizzy, like 7-Up (which some think may be one of the secret ingredients). And for $7, you get a huge bowl. Corner Place’s BBQ (the traditional accompaniment to cold noodles) is pretty good too, and portions are just as large, so an order of each is perfect for two.

Gil Mok [Koreatown]
a.k.a. Corner Place Restaurant
2819 James M Wood Blvd., at 9th St., Los Angeles
213-487-0968
Locater

Gil Mok [South Bay]
a.k.a. Corner Place Restaurant
19100 Gridley Rd., Cerritos
562-402-8578
Locater

Board Links
The Corner Place—No Box For You!

Flavors of Saigon in the South Bay

Saigon Flavor’s pho beats the other local attempts, says csrbeach, even if the herb plate only has basil, bean sprouts, and lime. Broth has good flavor and pho tai has a nicely sized portion of meat. They also have bun, banh xeo, com tam, and banh mi.

Banh mi is fairly impressive, says DiveFan–the baguette is nice and crusty like Lee’s. There aren’t very many choices, though, just grilled pork and a few others, and not enough pickled vegetables for crunch.

Saigon Flavor’s banh mi is $4, pho with iced coffee, tax and tip is $12.

Tapioca Express does pretty well with banh mi too, although they just call it “sandwich.” Baguette is very crispy and larger than either Saigon Flavor’s or Lee’s, says DiveFan, plus you get a generous amount of meat and pickled carrot, daikon, and jalapeno. Even better, it’s only $2.75.

Saigon Flavor [South Bay]
2515 W. Carson St., Torrance
310-533-9999
Locater

Tapioca Express [South Bay]
1425 W. Artesia Blvd. Unit #19, Gardena
310-327-7999
Locater

Board Links
saigon flavor in torrance–review

Baklava in the South Bay

Baklava is dangerous. Once you start on the Lebanese and Syrian stuff, it’s really hard to stop. “Maybe because the pieces are so small, and the assortments beg you to try one of each kind–and then another round and another round, like a beauty contest, to see which type you like best. Before you know it, your jeans don’t fit anymore,” says pilinut.

You can get the good stuff at Aladdin Market and Deli, days Euonymous. Check for the Semiramis brand that pilinut favors, imported from Damascus.

You can also get great imported Lebasese baklava at Alhana, a Lebanese grocery store that also serves killer chicken shwarma and garlic fries.

As for locally made product, if you make it to Fremont, Melanie Wong directs you to MidEast Deli (see also ChowNews #200), where you can get freshly house-made baklava. It’s less drenched in butter and syrup than many baklavas–and there’s something to be said for that. And SanJoseHound buys it at the International Food Bazaar, where a variety pack from Diamond Bakery in Fremont will run you about $7.99.

Aladdin Market and Deli [Peninsula]
224 E. Hillsdale Blvd., San Mateo
650-574-7288
Locater

Alhana Foods Mediterraean [Peninsula]
25 37th Ave., San Mateo
650-349-3300
Locater

MidEast Deli & Grocery [East Bay]
4128 Bay Street, Fremont
510-490-2056
Locater

International Food Bazaar [South Bay]
5491 Snell Avenue, San Jose
408-365-1922
Locater

Board Links
Where to get baklava in the South Bay area?

How to Enjoy Poulet

Poulet can be a great source of homey takeout food, says rworange. She gets whatever looks fresh and good–like the chicken, mushroom, fennel, and red wine sauce with pappardelle. Boozy, wine-soaked mushrooms perfume the experience, and the chicken is deliciously tender and darkly stained with wine. Caramel bread puuding is good, rich, eggy, and full of vanilla, with a thin layer of caramel on a lovely browned top. Let your eyes be your guide–if it looks outstanding and fresh, it probably tastes that way, too.

Do not, however, go at the end of the day and just order anything, advises Berkel–you may end up with the dry, old, shriveled-up remains of whatever didn’t sell well that day. “My own advice at Poulet is the same as any deli: if it looks tired or dry, it probably is, so buy something else,” says rworange.

Poulet [East Bay]
1685 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley
510-845-5932
Locater

Board Links
poulet / poo-lay
Berkeley – Poulet revisited

Farm-Fresh Salad Dressings with North Fork Flavors

Uncommonly good bottled salad dressings with Asian flavors come from Sang Lee Farms on Long Island’s North Fork. jenniebnyc is hooked on their Asian Vinaigrette–creamy, light, slightly sweet. Other flavors: citrus, scallion, sweet ginger, toasted sesame.

coll is partial to their pestos–basil-pine nut, cilantro-pine nut, and spinach-walnut. All are available year-round online or at the farm, and on Saturday mornings from June to November at the Westhampton Beach farmers’ market (this year’s season ends November 11).

The products were developed by Sang Lee but are now made by A Taste of the North Fork in Cutchogue, which turns local produce into dressings, jams and jellies, mustards, vinegars, and other good stuff.

Sang Lee Farms [Suffolk County]
25180 Middle Rd. (County Rd. 48), near Bridge Ln., Peconic, NY
631-734-7001
Locater

Westhampton Beach farmers’ market [Suffolk County]
in parking lot next to Westhampton Beach Historical Society
101 Mill Rd., between Sunset and Woodland Aves., Westhampton Beach, NY
631-288-1559
Map

A Taste of the North Fork [Suffolk County]
8595 Cox Ln., near Oregon Rd., Cutchogue
631-734-6100
Locater

Board Links
Sang Lee Farms, North Fork LI