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

Si-gol-jip Korean B. B. Q. Restaurant

Si-gol-jip is an unassuming, no-name place with a stellar kitchen, says Melanie Wong. Porthos agrees: the food is excellent, the best on El Camino. Stand outside and give it a sniff–the aromas are very inviting, always a good sign. Gool Jun (oyster with fried green onion in batter) is $12.95, and you get about a dozen small, very fresh oysters dipped in green onion-egg batter and fried until just barely done, still creamy and soft in the middle with a sweet and mild flavor. They’re terrific with a splash of the garlicky vinegar dipping sauce. It’s a large portion of high-quality oysters for the price.

Nine panchan are served with dinner, along with a light vegetable broth with cubes of tender daikon and firm tofu. Braised mixed vegetables steeped in a briny, spicy marinade are especially interesting. The spicy heat cuts like a laser across the palate and persists for a long time. The seaweed panchan is also great–the shreds of fresh, almost crunchy kelp and leeks are served barely warm and lightly seasoned so their natural flavor blossoms.

Kal bi naeng myun (Korean barbecued short ribs with chilled buckwheat noodles) comes with a large portion of well-marbled, tender-chewy, deeply beefy short ribs. The marinade is a bit sweet, but the quality of the beef is excellent. Keok yum so bok kum (black goat and vegetables in hot sauce) features boneless braised goat meat in a delicious sauce, served with curlicued pieces of jelly-soft rind. An appetizer and two massive dishes run $57, but it’s way too much food for two–there was “nearly a quart of the goat leftover to take home,” says Melanie Wong.

Si-gol-jip Korean B. B. Q. Restaurant [Santa Clara County]
2358 El Camino Real, Santa Clara
408-244-8531
Map

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Si-gol-jip (Korean BBQ Restaurant) in Santa Clara

Katsu-Hama Revisited: The Art of Fried Pork Cutlets

Katsu-Hama is serious about its katsu. The only restaurant in town to specialize in Japanese-style fried pork cutlets, they offer only a short menu dominated by katsu. They tout their high-quality meat, organic eggs, carefully selected frying oils, even breadcrumbs made from fresh house-baked bread. “The result was indeed a cut above any other katsu I’ve had in New York,” says Peter Cherches, who describes a delicious pork cutlet lunch ($10 with rice, pickles, shredded cabbage with sprightly carrot-sesame dressing, and a daily-changing miso soup).

For neophytes, Peter describes the katsu ritual: you are brought a bowl of toasted sesame seeds and a pestle. Grind the seeds and add tonkatsu sauce (made daily from onion, tomato, apples, and spices) to taste. Dip the pork into the sauce, and enjoy.

Also on the menu: katsudon (katsu over rice), katsu with curry sauce, tori kara nanban (fried chicken with soy vinaigrette), and kushi-age (fried skewers) of shrimp, smelt, tuna, Berkshire pork, scallop, salmon, chicken, shiitake, and more.

Not everyone is won over. “There is way better katsu out there. Just not in New York, I guess,” shrugs Peter Cuce.

Katsu-Hama [Rockefeller Center]
11 E. 47th St., between 5th and Madison Aves., Manhattan
212-758-5909
Locater

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Katsu-Hama

New Nightspot for Tea Totallers

Java junkies have always had their pick of the litter when it comes to round-the-clock access to their caffeine fix of choice. Now tea lovers can start sippin’ past midnight, too.

The owners of T on Fairfax used to run nightclubs, and wanted to open up a late-night place that promoted a healthier lifestyle. Thus, T on Fairfax, open at 6 a.m. and closing at 1 a.m. All of their teas are loose leaf and carefully brewed; they even watch the mineral content of their water. French press coffee is an option if you happen to bring a tea-hater along.

They also offer a healthy selection of vegetarian salads, sandwiches, and desserts; many items can bemade vegan as well.

T on Fairfax [Fairfax Village]
435 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles
323-782-0695
Map

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new find for tea!

Vegetarian Samosa Haven

If you notice that the flavors of most dishes at Samosa House (formerly Bharat Bazaar) really stand out from the competition, it’s probably because they roast their own spices. All these spices are also available for purchase in their store, says shrenry.

All of their samosas are fried to order and go great with a mango lassi or one of their large selection of ginger beers, says Dommy.

Samosa House [Beaches]
formerly Bharat Bazaar
11510 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles
310-398-6766
Locater

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Samosa House in Culver City–any good?

Ideal Omelette Pan

The ideal omelette pan, says Ernie Diamond, is a French steel crepe pan sold by Williams-Sonoma. It’s about 8 inches in diameter and is just the right size for three eggs. The steel is thin and cooks cooks very fast–it only takes about three minutes to get a perfectly shaped, tender omelette. The pan needs to be seasoned, and can be treated in much the same way as cast iron.

Here’s the French steel crepe pan.

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Cast iron omelet pan?

Flat Iron Steak

Flat iron steaks are a cut relatively new to the consumer marketplace. They’re cut from the chuck blade, and named because their shape resembles the old-fashioned flat irons used before that newfangled electricity thing. They’re very tender, with robustly beefy flavor, say hounds. Treat them as you would flank or skirt steak: grill or pan sear to no more than medium rare, and slice against the grain. Flat irons take well to marinades, but many prefer to simply salt and pepper before cooking, and serve a sauce on the side, since they’ve got such great flavor.

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Flat Iron Steak?

Huitlacoche

Huitlacoche is also called corn fungus or Mexican truffles. It sounds and looks disgusting; the kernels turn into bulbous grey lumps in the infected corn. But nevermind the fact that it looks like something went and died on your corn–it’s actually really delicious. It’s like mushrooms, rich and earthy, says Das Ubergeek. It can be sauteed and folded into an omelet or used in a crepe filling. In fact, any mushroom recipe could employ huitlacoche.

The Goya brand has it canned, but fresh is best.

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What’s huitaloche like?

Mango Splitter

A mango splitter is a gadget that’s said to make fast work of slicing a mango, easily manuevering around the elongated mango pit, which can be a challenge with a knife. OXO has one that many say works really well. It works like an apple corer, separating the two halves of a mango from its pit.

Order one online. They’ve also been spotted at Bed Bath & Beyond.

We have dissenters who remark that this gizmo leaves a lot of pulp around the seed that will need to be removed by hand, so it doesn’t save much work versus using a knife.

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Is a mango slicer worth it? [moved from General Topics]

Balsamic Begone

Ximena of the lovely blog Lobstersquad (tagline: “a food blog with drawings”) posted a funny rant this week about the rampant misuse of balsamic vinegar, brought on by an egregious example involving fried eggs at a low-key restaurant in Sevilla. “In what stupid parallel universe does anyone think a fried egg is improved by a brown squiggle?” she fumes, going on to lament the tendency of chefs all over Spain to “doodle on plates” with balsamic reductions and completely ignore the great local vinegars.

But in her eyes the worst thing about balsamic is its tendency to overwhelm if used indiscriminately:

Listen: balsamic vinegar is not a neutral ingredient. As well as acidity, it has a bunch of other flavours (wine vinegar, grape must, sulphites E22o, caramel colouring E150D, anyone?). It should not be thrown about any old how. It can be a wonderful product, but it can also be pretty intrusive and pointless. If I had my way, I’d forbid the wanton use of this substance to all except
A. Italians. they invented the thing, they know what to do with it
B. good chefs. Ditto about knowing

It seems she’s not alone in her exasperation with balsamic: A few months ago, Chowhounders discussed the overabundance of the stuff (and I’m assuming they were talking about American cuisine, ‘cause I’ve certainly seen my share of little brown dots on plates stateside, not to mention “palate cleansers” of macerated fruits in balsamic). The ‘hounds echo Ximena’s worry that other worthy vinegars are getting short shrift, and that balsamic tends to commandeer the flavor of
a dish.

But I wonder if this balsamic backlash is due in part to the fact that a lot of what we’re tasting in restaurants isn’t authentic balsamic, the kind made from pure must (unfermented, syrupy grape juice). The latter is expensive, and the balsamic that you see in most stores (and, I’d wager, in low-end and midrange restaurant kitchens) is diluted with regular ol’ wine vinegar. Of course, the real-deal version has a more intense flavor, so maybe authenticity’s not the issue at all. To borrow a phrase from Nicolas Cage, maybe it’s just time we all put the balsamic back in the box.

Food, Fat and Fall

Forbes.com seems to be as confused about food as the rest of us. Do we love it? Do we fear it?

The publication just posted the most deliciously schizophrenic food-related slide show of the year.
In “Fall’s Most Fattening Foods,” picture after picture clicks by, each more food porny than the last. Perfectly rare rack of lamb oozing juice into a cloudlike pillow of creamy mashed potatoes. Decadent (banned) foie gras ready for its close-up. A winsome-looking trio of of Buffalo wings swaddled in a crusty, spicy coating.

But just as you’re thinking, here’s a great resource for planning my next dinner party menu, you notice that underneath each scrumptious-looking picture the text tells you the calorie count, a paragraph on just exactly why the food is bad for you, and an “Exercise Equivalent.” Working off duck a l’orange will take more than 4 1/2 hours of yoga.

It’s the ultimate foodie buzz-kill.