The CHOW Blog rss

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

Bite the Antenna

Bite the Antenna

Wires and spikes make up modern serviceware from Crucial Detail. READ MORE

Battle Foie Gras Is On

Take two food bloggers, give them each a free hunk of foie gras, and what do you get? An online cooking competition where they try to outdo each other in making the best Thomas Keller-style torchon.

That’s what happened this week when Meg of Megnut and Adam of The Amateur Gourmet received their freebie foie (yes, apparently being a blogger does have its benefits). The Torchon Tournament was on.

Adam, in his post 70 Steps to Foie Gras Torchon, records all the messy details in graphic photos, turning a few readers off the idea of foie gras forever. “I’ve always been interested in trying it” writes a reader. “Until today … it’s just way too obviously organ-y looking to me.”

Meg takes the high road in her post. She admits that deveining is a disgusting process, and writes, “I chose not to photograph this stage … because I want you, if you enjoy foie gras, to continue to enjoy foie gras.” Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

After the foie has been prepared, including four days of hanging in the refrigerator being compressed into a log, dinner was served. Each invited friends to share this carefully prepared delicacy (Meg’s guests even include a former vegan—from tempeh to torchon, that’s a long way to stray).

In the end, Adam conceded victory to Meg. With Thomas Keller presumably too busy to judge this particular cookoff, it got a wee bit messy until Michael Ruhlman stepped in to say that, while Adam’s foie was “very nice,” Meg’s version “appear[ed] to be exquisite.”

Here at CHOW we’ve devised a more thorough judging process:

In the categories of beautiful photos and lyrical prose, the honors must go to Meg.

In the categories of excellent documentation (of all the gory details) and cheeky humor, the honors go to Adam.

As for the foie itself, we cannot say; we weren’t there. But we would be happy to make ourselves available to judge any future cookoff these two may have. Just don’t show us the gory photos until after we’ve had our meal—OK, Adam?

Not Krispy Kreme Christianity

Church picnics. Can’t you just taste the fried chicken, potato salad, homemade cakes, and big glasses of sweet, sweet iced tea? (I can, but maybe it’s just because I’ve been reading a lot of southern novelists these days.)

A study that came out this summer, however, found that traditions like these may be taking a toll on congregations. The study tracked the religious practices of more than 2,500 people from 1986 to 1994, and then correlated that data with the body mass index of each subjects. The result? Those of certain denominations—particularly Baptists and fundamentalist Protestants—are more likely to be obese. The study’s author, Ken Ferraro, decried what he calls “Krispy Kreme Christianity.”

An article in today’s San Mateo County Times outlines an innovative program in Santa Clara County, California, that is helping congregants get healthy. Five years ago, shocked by high rates of obesity, diabetes, and cancer in the African-American community, county health officials approached church leaders and asked them to help save their parishioners’ bodies as well as their souls.

Now those efforts seem to be paying off:

At Sureway Ministries in Palo Alto, congregants work out together at the gym. Newly slim members of True Vine Baptist Church in San Jose are taking daily walks and serving fruit—not cake—at church meetings. And after each Golden Altar Sunday service, members get their blood pressure and glucose levels checked.

Since support is a key predictor of success in any health-improvement undertaking, this kind of counseling seems to be a great idea. There’s even an umbrella organization to support the supporters!

Rise and Shine

Who knew readers of The New York Times were such passionate home bread bakers? Scoring the coveted “most e-mailed” slot on the paper’s website on Wednesday wasn’t the election returns, but rather Mark Bittman’s article about Sullivan Street Bakery owner Jim Lahey’s magical new no-knead bread-making method. In the accompanying video, Lahey claims a 4-year-old can make this bread; Bittman hedges and places his bet on an ambitious 8-year-old.

But the instructions and ingredients couldn’t be simpler: just flour, salt, a smidgen of yeast, and water, mixed together and left to rise for 18 hours. The gooey dough is poured into a preheated, covered pot to bake, so that trapped steam from the dough will produce a crackling crust and airy crumb just like one pulled from a $5,000 steam-injection professional oven, or so Bittman and Lahey claim. The pictures certainly showed a gorgeous loaf—caramel-crusted with a satiny, chewy-looking crumb pocked with holes, a loaf seemingly pulled fresh from the shelves of a great European bakery. And naturally, Harold McGee supplied some food-geek cred as to how the long rise gets the gluten molecules into proper alignment.

Eager bakers immediately started two threads on Chowhound, mostly to report how they were running out the door that instant to score bread flour and yeast. But is Lahey’s method really so revolutionary? Hardly, shrugs Fortune at Bread Coffee Chocolate Yoga. Baking bread in a pot, she claims, goes back at least to the ancient Greeks, and was most recently repopularized by Elizabeth David’s encyclopedic compendium, English Bread and Yeast Cookery, in 1977. Fortune also points out that Los Angeles baker Suzanne Dunaway wrote a whole book on this “slack dough” method, called No Need to Knead.

But would Lahey’s loaf really be the best thing since sliced bread, as Bittman claimed? This reporter started a loaf in her home kitchen to find out. Some 24 hours later, after scattering cornmeal and flour all over the kitchen, the bread was baked, cooled, and ready to taste. The verdict? A nice open crumb, very moist, and a decent crust, if not as hard and crackle-ready as Bittman’s. Worth the hype? Well, it was certainly easy, and anyone with a fear of kneading could do it, especially with a little less water and a little more salt. But better than the fabulous bread for sale at Lahey’s bakery? Not yet.

Lutefisk, Meatballs and Lefse, Oh My!

The annual Sons of Norway Lutefisk and Meatball Dinner is taking place Nov. 10 and 11, starting at 4 p.m. In addition to the lutefisk (fish soaked in lye, but don’t be afraid) with melted butter, there are the meatballs with gravy, potatoes, peas, lefse (flatbread) and dessert.

The way things work is that you enter the building, tell them how many people are in your party (no reservations) and pay. (Last year it was about $18.) They give you a ticket and you wait for a table–this can last more than an hour. In the meantime, there’s a sale behind the lodge where you can buy lefse and lefse makers, and other Scandinavian products. There’s also a bar serving aquavit and bad wine.

Parking is crazy in the residential neighborhood–you can park at the nearby Central Lutheran Church, at the northwest corner of Victory and Tyrone.

Also, the SVEA Christmas pageant is coming up Dec. 3. You can get meatballs, gravy and lingonberries as well as Scandinavian holiday decorations, gifts, and books, and there’s a classic Lucia procession.

Norrona Lodge Hall [East San Fernando Valley]
a.k.a. Sons of Norway
14312 Friar St., Van Nuys
818-780-4778
Locater

The Hollywood Palladium [Hollywood]
6215 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles
323-962-7600
Locater

Board Links
Lutefisk, Meatballs & Lefse, OH MY!!

Sheep Station: Aussie-Style Gastropub in Park Slope

An Australian-style gastropub called Sheep Station has turned up improbably in Park Slope’s western outback of auto shops and tire stores. “I’m totally loving this place,” raves pitu, who has enjoyed moules frites and flaky, moist meat pies. Others recommend roast lamb sandwiches, fish and chips, and salads, including one with beets, arugula, and Manchego.

The short menu also includes oysters, lamb cutlets, whole fish specials (a recent offering: grilled barramundi), and an Australian burger topped with beet, pineapple, and fried egg. Beyond the chow, hounds are taking to the relaxed vibe, personable staff, and cool industrial decor.

“This place is a real find,” says bobjbkln, who likes the draft beer selection–highlighted by Maudite, the Belgian-style red ale from Quebec’s Unibroue–but wishes they carried more Australian brews.

Sheep Station [Park Slope]
149 4th Ave., at Douglass St., Brooklyn
718-857-4337
Locater

Board Links
YUM! Sheep Station, on 4th Ave down from BAM

Comforts of Italy and France from Three Village Veterans

Three longtime Greenwich Village favorites are hitting their marks. Da Andrea has earned a loyal following with homey, comforting chow from Emilia-Romagna and gracious, unpretentious service. “I love the place,” declares mrnyc, who considers it one of the city’s top neighborhood Italian spots. Pastas, especially house-made pappardelle with sausage ragu and a dash of truffle oil, are a smart choice. Some other standouts: grilled calamari with lemon, gnocchi with Gorgonzola and arugula, and braised lamb shank with cannellini.

Prices are reasonable. Cate says her budget-minded party of four enjoyed a festive birthday dinner–two appetizers, four pastas, two desserts, two bottles of wine–for just $130 before tip. Highlights: veal-spinach ravioli in cream sauce with mushrooms and prosciutto; beef carpaccio with arugula and hearts of palm; steamed mussels in lightly spiced tomato sauce with terrific garlic focaccia. Wines–a Dolcetto and a house red–were especially affordable.

A few blocks south at Bar Pitti, crowds brave an inevitable wait for solid Tuscan food in a cool, casual setting. Bar Pitti, too, is affordably priced. Pastas are dependably good, especially the house special rigatoni with turkey sausage in tomato cream sauce–“awesome!” raves netmover. Others recommend taglierini with leeks and artichokes or simple, satisfying ravioli Bella Vista (filled with spinach and ricotta). Be sure to check out the blackboard for specials like burrata, black truffle linguine, and tender, light veal meatballs. For dessert, go for panna cotta or torta della nonna (lemon-almond cake). Detractors find the food uneven and not worth the wait.

On Cornelia Street, cozy Le Gigot remains a reliable spot for bistro standards like charcuterie, steak au poivre, and the eponymous leg of lamb with flageolets. erica reports a very good dinner highlighted by outstanding Pacific Northwest oysters, crab cakes (lots of lump crab and little binder atop crisp baby greens), duck confit (with haricots verts and creamy mashed potatoes), and reasonably priced wines by the glass. This is the kind of spot she wishes existed in her neighborhood.

Da Andrea [West Village]
557 Hudson St., between Perry and W. 11th Sts., Manhattan
212-367-1979
Locater

Bar Pitti [West Village]
268 6th Ave., between Bleecker and Houston Sts., Manhattan
212-982-3300
Locater

Le Gigot [Greenwich Village]
18 Cornelia St., between W. 4th and Bleecker Sts., Manhattan
212-627-3737
Locater

Board Links
Le Gigot, Cornelia Street..what to order tonight??
Bar Pitti suggestions?
Da Andrea last night- review
DA ANDREA review
Manhattan Whirlwind Reviewed

Sweet Potato Pie

The sweet potato pie at It’s All Good Bakery is delicious, says susaninsf–perfectly spiced and smooth, not too sweet, very nice crust, pleasantly firm filling. It’s the best thing there, agrees Hunicsz, although the four-layer coconut cake is also a winner.

Think of it as a Thanksgiving alternative–but call ahead to check availability.

It’s All Good Bakery [Bushrod]
5622 Martin Luther King Jr Way, Oakland
510-597-9700
Locater

Board Links
It’s All Good Bakery on MLK in Oakland

Wagashi

Wagashi are Japanese dessert items, super-sweet and in cute little seasonal shapes. They’re most frequently made from beans, rice flour, chestnut flour, sugar, and/or gelatin, says Louise.

For those who deeply desire cute little Japanese desserts in aforementioned seasonal shapes, check out Shuei-do–they have great tasting wagashi, says muimi07. Wendy_san suggests Benkyo-do as another option. She mentions that wagashi are getting increasingly difficult to find in the Bay Area. You can find various wagashi in some local Japanese markets, but they’re usually shipped in from Los Angeles and are of varying quality

Shuei-do [South Bay]
217 Jackson St., San Jose
408-294-4148
Locater

Benkyo-do [Japantown]
1747 Buchanan Street, at Sutter, San Francisco
415-922-1244
Locater

Board Links
Wagashi–San Francisco ?

Citron: Mussels and More on the Upper West Side

Outstanding mussels and other well-executed bistro standards are drawing crowds at Citron, which might just break the curse of its hard-luck location on Columbus Avenue. The mussels come in huge portions done three ways–mariniere (white wine and garlic), provencale (tomato, garlic, basil), or sauteed with Pernod and cream. All are tasty and fresh, and fries are first-rate, says DaniNYC77. Also good: frisee salad with lardons and duck confit (with mushroom gratin and raspberry sauce).

Citron, open since spring, is the younger sister to Cassis a few blocks south, which does a fine job with a nearly identical bistro menu. Hound favorites at Cassis include escargots, brie on toast with roasted pear, and tender hanger steak with bordelaise.

Bistro Citron [Upper West Side]
formerly Mex & Co.
473 Columbus Ave., between W. 82nd and 83rd Sts., Manhattan
212-400-9401
Locater

Bistro Cassis [Upper West Side]
formerly Bruculino
225 Columbus Ave., at W. 70th St., Manhattan
212-579-3966
Map

Board Links
best mussels and fries in Manhattan
chow ivo Amsterdam and W. 79th?
Bistro Cassis UWS