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

Trattoria Buon Gusto

Melanie Wong pitches Trattoria Buon Gusto to her friends as “non-challenging Italian comfort food.” The warm atmosphere of this family-run Sicilian restaurant is backed up by the excellent and, indeed, very comforting food. Arancini are a house specialty–two tennis-ball-sized orbs of risotto, stuffed with ground meat, peas, and stringy cheese, all deep fried ($10). For entrees, think pasta, like the chicken and cheese ravioli in tomato cream sauce with just a touch of cream and a concentrated tomato richness. Pastas are in the $11-15 range.

One of the nicest things here, though, is the generously portioned cassata Siciliana ($6.50)–three layers of heavy, chocolate-frosted yellow cake, filled with liquor-spiked, citrus-scented ricotta cream. It’s not revelatory, cutting-edge cuisine, but this place is great for when you want to feel mellow, happy, and well fed.

Trattoria Buon Gusto [Peninsula]
651H Oak Grove, at Maloney Lane, Menlo Park
650-328-2778
Locater

Board Links
Dinner and Cassata Siciliana @ Trattoria Buon Gusto (Menlo Park)

Your Very Own Hot Pot

At Jazz Cat Caf

Tail to Tongue Eating

Oxtail (or more likely, beef tail) is kind of an exotic meat from the American standpoint, but in its intense flavor and slightly gelatinous texture, it’s a lot like short ribs. Around L.A., you can find versions from many cultures.

Oxtail at Versailles outshines the Cuban restaurant’s overhyped garlic chicken, says USCott.

Krua Thai has a delicious oxtail soup, says stevedoggiedogg.

Angelini Osteria offers sublime oxtail when the weather cools, says judge dee.

M&M Soul Food turns out great oxtails, says Windella, who notes that service at the Long Beach branch is better than at the others.

The Filipino dish kare-kare is a sort of stew with oxtail and vegetables in a thick peanut sauce. A tasty version can be found at Asian Noodles, says pleasurepalate.

Oxtail is featured on the menu of several Hong Kong-style restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley–Phoenix Inn makes a good dish, says kure.

Port Royal has good Jamaican-style oxtail, says budlit.

And Bruddah’s, the well-liked Hawaiian restaurant, has oxtail stew/soup.

On the other end of the steer, modernist says the sliced beef tongue at Izayoi is really nice–nicely browned and luscious. It comes in gravy, with some broccoli.

Koshiji has a likable beef tongue skewer, says Bon Vivant.

Korean BBQ places also do tongue–alexfood enjoyed it at Chosun Galbi.

Versailles Restaurant [South LA]
10319 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles
310-558-3168
Locater

Versailles Restaurant [Beaches]
1000 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Manhattan Beach
310-937-6829
Locater

Versailles Restaurant [Midtown]
1415 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles
310-289-0392
Locater

Versailles Restaurant [East San Fernando Valley]
1000 Universal Center Dr. #v206, Universal City
818-505-0093
Locater

Versailles Restaurant [West San Fernando Valley]
17410 Ventura Blvd., Encino
818-906-0756
Locater

Krua Thai Restaurant [East San Fernando Valley]
13130 Sherman Way, at Ethel, North Hollywood
818-759-7998
Locater

Angelini Osteria [Melrose District]
7313 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles
323-297-0070
Locater

M & M Soul Food [South Bay]
5400 Cherry Ave., Long Beach
562-422-8395
Locater

M & M Soul Food [South LA]
5496 W. Centinela Ave., Los Angeles
310-215-8186
Locater

M & M Soul Food [Pasadena-ish]
755 E. Washington Blvd., Lake, Pasadena
626-794-0059
Locater

M & M Soul Food [South LA.]
3552 W. Martin Luther King Jr., Los Angeles
323-299-1302
Locater

M & M Soul Food [South LA]
3300 W. Manchester Blvd., Inglewood
310-673-5031
Locater

Asian Noodles [Chinatown]
643 N. Spring St., Los Angeles
213-617-1083
Locater

Asian Noodles [East San Fernando Valley]
1428 E. Colorado St., Langley, Glendale
818-548-4277
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

Port Royal Cafe [Beaches]
1412 Broadway, Santa Monica
310-458-4147
Locater

Bruddah’s Hawaiian Foods [South Bay]
1033 W. Gardena Blvd., between Vermont & Normandie, Gardena
310-323-9112
Locater

Izayoi [Little Tokyo]
132 South Central Ave., Los Angeles
213-613-9554
Locater

Yakitori Koshiji [Little Tokyo]
123 Onizuka Street Suite #203, Los Angeles
213-626-4989
Map

Chosun Galbi Restaurant [Koreatown]
3330 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles
323-734-3330
Locater

Board Links
for the beef tongue lovers out there…
Where should I eat my first oxtail

Flat-Topped Cake Layers

When layer cakes bake they dome in the middle because, as the pan heats, the batter near the edges of the pan cooks faster than the batter in the middle. Domed cakes aren’t conducive to stacking and icing when you’re constructing a multi-layered confection. Here are some fixes:

The most basic approach is simply to slice the dome off so your layers will have flat tops. Use a long serrated knife, and work slowly. It’s easiest to get a level top if you rotate the cake as you slice the dome off. A rotating cake stand makes this easy, but a lazy susan placed on top of an upturned cake pan or Dutch oven is a good substitute, says Kelli2006. A wire cake cutter takes the guesswork out of leveling, and can be used to divide one cake into perfectly even layers, says TorontoJo. To make frosting go on neatly, lay each layer cut-side down, so the crumbs from the cut side don’t gum up the works.

When you slice the domes off cakes, you get a lot of yummy nibbles but you also lose a lot of volume in the finished cake you serve. You can prevent cake layers from doming while they bake using a couple of methods. There are special cake strips made of aluminized fabric, which you moisten with cold water and wrap around the cake pan. They keep the outer edges of the pan cool, so the cake’s whole surface bakes evenly and doesn’t dome; many swear by them. AGM_Cape_Cod has had success keeping cakes flat-topped by covering the cake pan with foil until the batter sets, then removing the foil for the remaining baking time.

Board Links
Baking a cake, even tops…?

Ravioli Filled with Egg Yolk

It’s a giant raviolo–two large squares of fresh pasta enclosing a whole egg yolk, some Parmesan cheese, and shaved truffle. It’s cooked delicately so that when you cut into the cooked pasta, all the rich yolk oozes out and makes a sauce. But what’s the name?

Karl S proposes “uovo in ravioli” as the name of this dish–a name used by at least one New York chef.

A similar dish is something bolivianita used to make when she worked in restaurants making pasta. Called occhio di bue (ox eye), it consists of a giant raviolo filled with spinach and ricotta, and an egg yolk at the center–steamed so that the egg is still runny, and sauced with brown butter and sage.

Board Links
WHAT is this Italian specialty called?

Fall Cocktails

Chowhounds offer up recipes for cocktails with autumnal flavors:

jpschust recommends Woodford bourbon for the Maple Leaf:

3 parts bourbon
1 part maple syrup
1 part lemon juice

Shake over ice, then pour over ice. Serve with a lemon twist.

ashwood says Fallen Leaves has a very clean flavor:

3/4 oz. calvados
3/4 oz. sweet vermouth
1/4 oz. dry vermouth
lemon peel

Stir with ice, giving the lemon peel a good hard twist. Strain into a cocktail glass, using the peel for garnish.

2top offers Pumpkin Pie:

2 parts vanilla vodka
1 part pumpkin schnapps
splash of cream or splash of orange juice
garnish with nutmeg

wontonton combines good apple cider with dark spiced rum and warms it.

Board Links
Fall Cocktail Ideas

160,000 Ways to Use Your Leftovers

rworange is delighted by the possibilities inherent in the Leftovers Wizard. You enter in the ingredients you have left over, and the database pulls up any recipes that use your items. She says, with apologies to Paul Simon:

Reuse that lamb rack, jack
Make a new flan, stan
Use up that soy, Roy
And get dinner free

Glencora likes it–three recipes for the combination of mango, shrimp, and rice–but is annoyed by the advertisements. Robert Lauriston says he gets more results just entering his leftovers into Google–lots of hits for chocolate and grapefruit, as opposed to none with the Leftovers Wizard.

Board Links
There must be 160,000 ways to use your leftovers

Don’t Leave Home Without It

Mashups: They aren’t just for the dance floor anymore. Delightful pairings of Web content are beginning to proliferate online. For instance, Ski Bonk offers updates on ski conditions for users who click on a Google map.

And then there’s Chocomap. Even the name is mouth-watering. Click on a city and up pops a map with each chocolate shop pinpointed. A floating text box provides address, phone number, and a short description.

The possibilities are endless. Plan a Paris walking tour in which you hit at least five chocolatiers per day. Make sure you haven’t overlooked a confectionary gem in your own town (unlikely, I know). Check out the candy stores near your friends’ homes and drop hints for an invite or a care package.

The map is in its infancy, and some cities need help. Drop them an email if your favorite shop isn’t on the list.

The rest of the site, produced by the Vancouver, B.C.-based Ecole Chocolat confectionary school, is pretty all right, too, with articles on tasting chocolate, interviews with chocolatiers, recipes, and plenty of other chocolaty goodness.

Turkeytini

I’ve never wondered what carbonated sweet potatoes tasted like. Maybe I’m missing something, but the sweet potato purée under my veal chop is about as liquid as I want the beta carotene–packed tubers. However, Jones Soda is once again daring people to drink their holiday-themed pops.

Their savory six-pack includes the following soda flavors: Turkey and Gravy, Green Pea, Dinner Roll, the aforementioned Sweet Potato, and the (perhaps very necessary) Antacid. If, even with the Antacid soda, you really can’t bring yourself to choke down any of those, they also have a dessert pack, which includes Cherry Pie, Banana Cream Pie, Key Lime Pie, Apple Pie, and Blueberry Pie.

Flippy at food blog I Rant: Therefore I Am has started rating the dessert sodas. She really loves the Banana Cream Pie and Blueberry Pie but is not so thrilled with the Apple Pie, writing, “If someone likes apple soda w/a cinnamon aftertaste, this is the drink for them.”

For a bit of historical perspective, Jones introduced their Turkey and Gravy soda in 2003, and the first holiday pack ever (which included Green Bean Casserole Soda, Mashed Potato & Butter Soda, Fruitcake Soda, and Cranberry Soda) followed a year later.

Man, the only thing I like about a soggy, khaki green bean casserole is the deep-fried onions—I wonder if they can incorporate that flavor into another rendition.

Jones’s seasonal sodas benefit Toys for Tots and St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.

Notch Up-Kicking Hits New High-Water Mark

Underground food guru Emeril Lagasse obtained a whiff of much-needed publicity in this month’s National Culinary Review. It seems the darling of the indie food scene cooked up a little something for NASA astronauts.

The November edition of NCR celebrates the Mardi Gras jambalaya, kicked-up mashed potatoes with bacon, green beans with garlic, and rice pudding with mixed fruit that the celebrichef whipped up for residents of the International Space Station.

But those of us able to get past the child-entrancing wonder of rice pudding dollops floating around in a zero-G environment will probably marvel at two or more of the following facts surrounding this NCR scoop:

—The food was served to the astronauts on August 10, 2006, nearly three months before the magazine’s date of publication. For those of us in touch with the natural world, the entire life span of most adult butterflies is about two weeks. Therefore, a butterfly that emerged from its chrysalis at about the time Emeril’s food was served to NASA astronauts would not only miss reading about it in the National Culinary Review, but it would also not live long enough to watch the St. Louis Cardinals win a disappointing World Series against the Detroit Tigers.

—Green beans with garlic merit mention as a separate dish.

—Emeril’s publicist greenlighted the following quote: “This gives the term ‘kicking it up a notch’ a whole new meaning.”