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

Loose Leaves and Loose Screws

Downtown office workers are psyched about Loose Leaf, a build-your-own salad place where you start with romaine, field greens, or baby spinach and add your choice of toppings–sliced steak, portobello mushrooms, edamame beans, dried cranberries, and goat cheese are just a few of the options. Dressings (made in-house) are tasty too, even fat-free options like cucumber mint. Soups are a good bet too.

Service, however, seems to be of the “I just work here” variety–even when it comes to answering the question “What time do you close?” (Counter Guy’s reply to yinyangdi: “I don’t know, I leave at 5.” Correct answer: 8 p.m.)

Loose Leaf [Downtown]
630 W. 6th St., at Hope, Los Angeles

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FYI: Loose Leaf on 6th and Hope

Sumika Grill

The newly-opened yakitori bar Sumika gets high marks from Melanie Wong for tasty, tender, soft, beautifully fried chicken. Momo (grilled chicken thigh) is soft-textured, very juicy and delicious, with caramelized bits at the grill marks. Pretty much every grilled chicken item available comes impregnated with the rich essence of chicken.

The fried chicken appetizer actually ends up being one of the best dishes, with subtle ginger and garlic flavors, a soft, greaseless crust, and ultra-juicy chunks of dark meat. Another stand-out is ochazuke (chicken risotto, $4)–soft-cooked rice topped with nori, big flakes of shaved bonito, scallions, pickled plum, and wasabi–which then has savory, intense chicken stock poured in from a teapot.

Dinner for two, including tax, tip, and a generous pour of Harushika sake is $54. It’s a new place and the staff recommends reservations.

Sumika Grill [Peninsula]
236 Central Plaza, Los Altos

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Sumika in Los Altos–Get a reservation NOW

Hong Kong Style Desserts

100% Healthy Desserts is a new place specializing in Hong Kong-style desserts, both traditional and modern. Melanie Wong likes ji ma wu, black sesame sweet soup. ($3.25), an ebony-black concoction of smooth, unctuous sesame puree, with intense roasted sesame flavor and perfectly balanced sweetness. It’s clearly made from scratch, without a bunch of cornstarch to thicken it out. “I haven’t had real, lusciously rich ji ma wu like this since I was a wee one,” says Melanie.

She also rates their interesting lobster ball ramen ($5.95) 34th in the city.

As for fancy drinks, K K likes the #1, also known as the Old SF–separate layers of watermelon juice with ice, fresh pineapple juice with ice, sugar syrup, and black pearl. It’s refreshing and lovely. The tofu fa is kind of flavorless, but the texture of the tofu is remarkable–supremely soft, like flower petals.

It’s a new place, and service is slow and a bit exasperating. Go when you’re not in a hurry.

100% Healthy Desserts [Sunset]
1155 Taraval St., San Francisco

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Lobster Ball Ramen, Ji Ma Wu and Other Sweets at 100% Healthy Desserts, SF
100% Healthy Dessert in Millbrae now open

Crispy Breaded Pork Tenderloin Sandwiches

A regional specialty in Iowa and Indiana, the breaded pork tenderloin sandwich is much beloved by locals, and easy to reproduce at home. The pork is a take on schnitzel: it’s pounded thin, marinated in seasoned buttermilk, coated in breadcrumbs, and deep fried.

Big Al notes that the tenderloin should be served on a hamburger bun, that “proper” tenderloins are about 2-3 times the size of the bun, and that purists eat them only with onion, pickles, and mustard.

After following this recipe, Rubee says, “YUM–I can see why these are popular–a crispy, porky, guilty pleasure.”

Check out this pictorial ode to the pork tenderloin sandwich to see some more extreme examples of the genre.

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Crispy Breaded Pork Tenderloin Sandwiches

Latke Toppers

Latkes are a traditional Jewish holiday dish, fortunately available year ‘round. They’re fried pancakes made from grated potato, eggs, and often onion. Hot and crisp from the frying pan, they’re great topped with a dollop of sour cream, or a spoonful of apple sauce–or even a bit of both.

Chunky homemade applesauce is perfect during apple season. Leave the peels on! Sour cream should be thick. HillJ likes the two mixed together, with a dash of Kosher salt.

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latke debate: apple sauce v. sour cream

Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron

Lodge claims that Lodge Logic, their pre-seasoned cast iron pan, has an heirloom finish you can use straight out of the box. This is not exactly true; it doesn’t have a completely perfect finish right out of the box, say Chowhounds, but the factory head start on the seasoning process means you can get that wonderful, shiny black surface more quickly, whether you season yourself or just cook fatty foods like bacon in the pan for its first dozen or so uses. Procrastibaker does most of his cooking in cast iron, including vintage pans, and feels that Lodge Logic’s pre-seasoning is particularly durable.

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Preseasoned vs. not—Logic Cast Iron Skillet??

Duck Bones to Go!

Is it incredibly gauche to order Peking duck, and ask to take what’s left of the carcass home with you? It seems to depend on how the duck is served by the restaurant. Robert Lauriston has been served Peking duck, three style, where the crispy skin is served with crepes or buns, the meat is used in another dish with vegetables, and the bones are used for a soup. With this service, nothing of value would be left.

As Melanie Wong says, one can always ask. It may not be an accepted practice at the restaurant, and they can always refuse, or tell you there’ll be an additional charge.

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Peking Duck: Can I Ask For the Carcass?

Sweet Treats for the Festival of Lights

The Hindu/Sikh/Jain festival of lights celebrated in India, Diwali, starts tomorrow, and many bloggers are cooking up special dishes to sweeten the day.

At Mahanandi, blogger Indira needs to overcome her lifelong aversion to pumpkin:

But would the pumpkin accept me? I was skeptical. So I took the help of almonds, milk kova and of course our true friend that would instantly bring joy to any occasion, ‘the sugar.’

The sugar indeed brought joy, allowing her to create a delicious-looking pumpkin halwa.

The Saffron Trail’s Nandita has a massive three-parter devoted to Diwali. She makes “the mother of all Tambram sweets, Teratti Paal, a subtle sweet with just three ingredients: milk, ghee, and sugar. On the savory side, there’s Spicy Khajas, a deep-fried coin-shaped treat flavored with chili and cumin. I could eat a lot of those.

Latha, of Masala Magic, accompanies her recipe for the rich, dense chickpea-flour-based treat besan ladoo with a look back at her childhood Diwali celebrations in India:

I remember many a Diwali at home back in India where we would wake up at 3:00 a.m. in the morning, unable to contain the excitement of the festival ahead. Diwali mornings always started at our home in the wee hours of the morning. ... The kids in our street would always compete at who would be the first to burst a set of fireworks!

For many more Diwali blog posts, check in with Past, Present and Me, where Vee is hosting this month’s roundup of Indian food bloggers’ recipes. This month’s topic: Diwali, of course. Vee will post the recipes on October 21.

Healthy Debate, Unhealthy Drinks

Starbucks baristas and imbibers are getting into a healthy debate about the unhealthy drinks served up by the monster coffee chain.

There are 185 comments and counting on a post at the Starbucks Gossip blog that asks, “When will Starbucks get serious about diabetes and obesity?”

It’s a reasonable question, since some of the coffee chain’s sweetest drinks pack as many calories as fast food. As Marian Burros recently reported in The New York Times, a 20-ounce “venti” Caffe Mocha with whipped cream contains 490 calories, which is on a par with a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with cheese. Moreover, the Java Chip Frappuccino with whipped cream bulges at 650 calories.

The heated debate ranges from whether customers ultimately bear the responsibility for their food choices to whether Splenda is an adequate substitute for sugar. Interestingly, some employees, like the commenter who goes by the name of “Chi-towns best/angriest barista,” are working subversively to lighten up their customers’ drinks without their knowledge:

i think starbucks drinks are too unhelathy [sic], and i work there. sometimes i would use the sugar-free syrpus instead of regular, or add a little non-fat milk to a regular drink, and the frapp-lite base? looks a heck of a lot like the normal stuff when you stick whipped cream on it. maybe this is bad (i’m pretty sure it is bad) but i’ll do it anyway because i hate contributing to the growing unhealth of this country. we had this “go venti” slogan for a while, that i absolutely hated and refused to participate in. we were supposed to push venti-sized drinks on people, but i think that’s awful, and as a customer i hate when it’s done to me, so i never did it. you want a grande latte? sure. tall latte? even better. yeah, i’ll sell you a venti if you order it, but i won’t tell you to.
i consider it my tiny little part to make a difference.

I’ll Have a Rhubarbarella, Shaken, Not Stirred

Gourmet feeds the vague consensus that 2006 is the Year of the Cocktail with a nicely written piece on mixed drinks that puts fresh ingredients first.

The story is pegged to the Healdsburg, California, hotspot Cyrus, where an emphasis on seasonal produce and artisanal distillers yields drinks with a vivid acidity and a gorgeously natural visual appeal. The Plum Dandy photographed in the magazine features:

Hangar One Mandarin Blossom vodka, regular vodka, a wine called Ume Blanc that’s
made from a plumlike Japanese fruit, homemade five-spice honey, lemongrass syrup, lemon juice, peppermint leaves, preserved cherries, jasmine flowers, and a splash of Seltzer Sisters
seltzer …

Two important details were omitted by the story: One, the price tag. Two, the alcoholic wallop. These are both dreadfully gauche details, but when you commit to a drinking experience that includes a double-digit list of ingredients and luxury-branded seltzer, you deserve to have all the facts at hand before committing to your beverage.

That said, this account of a “beautifully obsessed” mixologist and his high-end antics is a delightful little portrait of a man on a mission to bring the ethos of Chez Panisse to the cocktail shaker.